The Secret Sauce of HARO Backlink Building
This is the most extensive guide on Help A Reporter (HARO) backlink building. Why? Because it’s built on our experience of sending more than 35,000 HARO pitches over the past two years.
Why should you use HARO? There are multiple benefits:
- Earned media backlinks are a white hat SEO tactic, among the least prone to Google’s mood swings;
- Improved brand awareness; and
- Contributed expert thought leadership enhances your industry authority.
Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of HARO is how accessible it is. While you need decent writing chops or a quality writer on your team to create the kind of “copy/pasteable” quotes HARO journalists love to incorporate into their articles, you don’t need to be the world’s most renowned expert in a particular field to be quoted. You also *never* have to pay to play, since HARO levels the playing field in a way that no other journalism sourcing service does.
Here’s an interesting story from my business partner, Morgan Taylor, on how one HARO backlink unlocked the opportunity of a lifetime:
While Gina caught some good luck with her HARO pitch, you can be lucky too, or you might even make your own luck by reading onward.
In the first part of this guide, you will learn everything from identifying relevant queries to consistently and effectively pitching for winning HARO backlinks.
The second part will contain mistakes to avoid, actionable advice for long-term HARO success, and tips for representing clients or employers.
Finding Relevant HARO Pitches
Step 1: Identify Relevant Opportunities
It’s pretty simple to sign up for HARO. All you have to do is fill in basic information:
Once you finish this step, you’ll receive 3 emails per day:
Each email contains a set of new pitch opportunities with a number of queries, ranging from 30 to 100+ opportunities.
An Easier Way to Pitch in HARO
Many marketers are turned off by HARO’s newsletter style because it can take a lot of time to find worthwhile, relevant opportunities. HARO sorts the list of daily opportunities based on broad industry categories (like Education, Business & Finance, Lifestyle & Fitness). For keyword-level sorting, you’ll have to pay a subscription fee.
Once you find relevant opportunities, pitching to low Domain Rating (DR – an Ahrefs metric) or low traffic websites won’t generate backlinks that boost your site in Google search results. What’s worse is that not every site will give you a backlink and some of those will be no follows!
We struggled with these issues for years before creating an app called Sourcery for internal use. We’ll be making it available to the public shortly.
Sourcery provides basic and advanced forms of help. Sorting and filtering pitches by DR, traffic, keywords, and deadlines are all standard, and most software users expect email and Slack-based keyword alerts regarding new opportunities.
Sourcery doesn’t stop there. It offers next-level HARO insight that provides each domain’s known “Linking Policy”, (i.e. whether it issues dofollow or nofollow links, grants unlinked mentions only, or varies). These linking policies change routinely, as websites strive to balance their outbound to inbound link ratios, protect link juice from flowing through nofollow links, etc.
To address this aspect of how HARO can be misleading for the SEO-minded, we conducted a detailed two-year HARO backlink study, then added that invaluable, daily-updated HARO data directly into Sourcery, so you can have that information at your fingertips too.
Step 2: Check Your Deadlines
If you find a very good opportunity, there’s no point in pursuing it if the deadline has already passed. If you’re using the raw HARO newsletter, make sure you check deadlines before crafting your pitch or evaluating the query further.
Why? Because all pitches are routed through HARO, which will automatically delete any pitches sent after a deadline. The time you spend checking each deadline can be re-invested threefold sending useful HARO pitches.
Step 3: Review Your Qualifications
There are many types of queries, and some have very specific requirements.
For example, this query asks for specific experience that can be verified easily:
In this next case, multiple opinions are being sought from various people:
Bottom line: Focusing your time on queries you’re qualified for will maximize your ROI on the time invested in HARO.
Once you have found relevant queries which you have both ample time before deadline and the expertise to contribute, it’s time to craft your HARO pitch.
How to Craft Winning HARO Pitches
Rule 1: Cite Your Authority or Relevance in the Subject Line
The quality of your subject line will determine the fate of all the effort you put into your pitch. Make sure you spend extra time on it and make it relevant, trust inducing, and clickable.
Citing your title is one way to showcase authority and relevance:
- CEO on How to Transition to Remote Work (3 Actionable Tips)
Instead of using my title, I sometimes use data to induce curiosity and establish authority:
- What I Learned Acquiring 300 Backlinks per Month for Clients
Another hot tip is to simply copy and paste your HARO query “Summary” into your email subject line. Believe it or not, this simple tip is highly effective.
Rule 2: Explain Your Authority or Relevance Immediately
Always start your pitch with a quick introduction as to why you’re the ideal person to be quoted for the article. Here is a standard introduction I use for queries that are related to SEO or backlinks:
The first sentence tells the journalist I’ve co-founded two companies. The second sentence is a data enriched claim that sells my expertise. These two combine to make a strong case for the journalist to check out my subsequent pitch.
You can and should tweak your introduction to best fit each individual query. If the query leans more towards business and entrepreneurship, I’d go with something like this:
Whether you are pitching lifestyle or business queries, tying your relevancy into your introductory sentences creates intrigue to read further, and leverage to quote your thoughts.
Rule 3: Make Your Pitch Easy to Read
Journalists receive hundreds of pitches every day. Good formatting and an engaging presentation boost your chances of getting noticed, considered for publication, and approved as an authority.
For a standard pitch, I recommend listing two or three tips with one short paragraph for each tip. Bullet points can help break up a wall of text as well.
Your paragraphs should be 2-4 sentences in length. Staying brief and to the point will always be valued over fluff. Stick to this standard online writing format unless they specifically request either a briefer or longer pitch.
Here is an example of a standard pitch:
While it’s okay to bold the first or “summary” sentence of each paragraph, don’t go crazy with formatting. Keeping your pitch as simple and easy to read as possible is key.
Rule 4: Always Conclude by Offering More
You can see this in the previous pitch. Offering to add more value will make journalists take note.
While this genuine offer should never make up the entirety of your pitch, as a helpful conclusion, it will prompt journalists to reach out for elaboration or clarification, bringing you one step closer to a win. Here is an example from one of our client accounts:
Bonus: This is a great opportunity to build a relationship with journalists for future direct communication!
Rule 5: Fully Leverage Your Email Signature
The email signature is one of the most underrated aspects of a HARO pitch. It should contain a link to your website, social media handles, and (most frequently overlooked) a link to your photo.
Many journalists will use your photo along with your quote. However, since HARO doesn’t allow you to attach images to your pitch, you will have to place a link for your photo. This will save them considerable time, an invaluable commodity for freelancers who only get paid per article. When they are on a tight deadline and don’t have time to email back and forth requesting photos, your pitch will automatically be valued over those without photos.
Rule 6: Don’t Spend too Much Time Proofreading
Experienced, exceptional writers will earn one placement for every 3-5 pitches. Everyone else will need 7-15 pitches for a win.
Considering that average conversion ratio, and that your time is valuable, you shouldn’t spend more than 20-30 minutes on a pitch.
You don’t have to proofread each pitch to perfection. While you don’t want any glaring errors disqualifying your otherwise actionable insights, remember that you’re playing a numbers game just to get your pitch opened. Queries from top publications like Business Insider receive 100-200 pitches in just 24 hours!
If you want a little extra polish, copy and paste your pitch into Grammarly so you can correct any typos quickly. Just be careful not to let Grammarly’s suggestions take the expertise out of your pitch.
Mistakes to Avoid While Pitching to HARO
It’s always better to learn from others than learning things the hard way. Here are some things to avoid:
1. Sending Only an Invitation for Writers to Contact You For a Response
Almost all journalists using HARO are freelancers who get paid per post. Since they are not working on an hourly basis, they won’t have time for back-and-forth emailing or phone calls. When they open your initial pitch, they want to see a quote that can be copied and pasted without any further exchange.
Therefore, do not solely provide them with your basic information and ask them to contact you if interested. They will not contact you.
From time to time, queries from the WSJ, NY Times, and the like will make a phone interview part of their process. In such cases, send an email that highlights your credentials while touching a little bit on your response. Such cases are the exception; 99% of queries won’t go this way.
Hyperlinking your website multiple times in your pitch is a strict no-no. The only place you should do that is in your email signature.
Make sure your quote is not too self-promotional and never beg for backlinks. If you add genuine value, you will be quoted.
3. Using Jargon
Jargon can be a big barrier to getting quoted. You might be so used to certain technical words that they have become part of your lingo, but many HARO journalists are not subject matter experts. That’s why they are turning to HARO: for expert opinions.
If you use an abbreviation, expand it in brackets. The journalist can always edit it out of their post if necessary.
4. Being Negative or Dishonest
Keep your pitch straight and clean.
- Do not speak about things you don’t understand.
- Keep your opinions positive.
- Never mudsling.
If you have to be critical of something or someone, make sure you are constructive and support your statement with relevant data or logic. If you build a bad reputation, journalists can blacklist you.
Long-term HARO Strategies to Ensure Consistent Wins
These are strategies we’ve learned through earning 3,000+ links from HARO pitches over two and a half years:
1. Build Relationships with Journalists
Most journalists write for multiple publications and have very tight schedules. They use HARO to make their work easier, which means establishing a relationship with them can give you an edge. There are many ways to do this:
- Some journalists will reach out to you once the quoted article is published. Reply to these emails and offer future help.
- Share quoted articles on social media and tag the journalist, thanking them for the quote. They might engage with you, and even if they don’t, they’ll remember your name.
Here is an example of a journalist reaching out for help:
This was for one of our client’s accounts. We gave the journalist a pitch immediately, and they were thrilled. They promised to keep our client in mind for similar quotes in the future. Cision published more tips on how to develop relationships with journalists.
2. Beware of Publications that Change Your Link Status
Publications can convert dofollow links to nofollow or remove them completely, which we call “link decay”. While few publications indulge in such activity, they should be identified so you can avoid pitching them.
3. Create a Template to Save Time
Do not make a template for your whole pitch!
Having said that, your introduction and conclusion paragraphs can be templated. The signature should be pre-formatted as well.
You will, of course, have to change a sentence here and there depending on the context. But having templates ready for these two portions of the pitch can save you loads of time in the long term.
4. Reach Out to Journalists Who Don’t Link to Your Website
Once in a while, there will be a journalist who quotes you without linking to your website. When you use HARO, you pitch through proxy emails, so you won’t have journalists’ direct email addresses.
To get around this, use a tool like Norbert to find their email address so you can reach out to them and politely ask for a backlink. You can also simply Google around for their personal freelance site or use LinkedIn Sales Navigator.
Whatever method you use for finding contact information, don’t be pushy. If a genuine mistake was made, they’ll link to your website. If they were following an editorial policy, avoid pitching to that publication again unless you’ve carefully studied their recent articles and observed a change in their linking policy.
How to Earn Client Backlinks Using HARO
If you’re representing your boss or client, there are some best practices:
1. Use a Lookalike Email Hosted on the Company’s Domain
Journalists want to speak to authorities, not representatives.
Let’s imagine your client is Josh Spaniel, CEO of Instagroot.com. His real email ID might be firstname.lastname@example.org. To conduct outreach for him (with his permission of course), create a new email ID like email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Using your own email ID and claiming to conduct outreach for a client will produce lower conversions. Similarly, using a free Gmail or Yahoo address is inadvisable.
2. Know Who You Represent
Conduct a detailed interview so that you have in-depth knowledge about your client. If your client doesn’t have time for that, ask them to fill out a form with details about their business philosophy, company history, and present-day activity. Conducting outreach for someone with minimal knowledge about their background and personality is brand suicide.
The onboarding survey for Jolly SEO’s DFY HARO service is effective *and* easy to complete.
Ask important questions that are relevant to current affairs. For example, last year produced multiple queries related to lockdowns, working remotely, and other related subjects. Knowing our clients’ opinions and workplace policies regarding these topics was very useful for us. Keep updating your knowledge about client views and practices on an annual basis.
3. Steer Clear of Controversy
Avoid pitching political and personal topics. As a professional, you should not ask anyone about such things, let alone represent their views in a publication.
4. Research their Industry
Conduct in-depth research on the industry of the person you’re writing for. You will also need to keep reading about the latest trends to stay abreast of industry developments.
Queries tend to be about trends and your pitch must be relevant. If you don’t have a clue about the industry, it’ll be hard for you to form a valuable contribution to the article.
5. Tell the Truth
Yes, you are an Internet marketer, but that doesn’t mean you’re working in obscurity. Protecting your client’s personal and company brand is mission-critical.
Many queries specifically ask for data related to revenue and other finances. If your client is willing to share such information, that’s fine. In all other cases, do not fabricate stories or sensitive data just for a backlink. It might end up tarnishing your client’s image, which can subsequently kill your business or theirs.
Use HARO for Long-term SEO Success
All that I’ve shared here was learned over the course of two and a half years. If applied correctly, these tips and best practices will ensure results within four weeks. I would recommend sending at least 15 pitches per week if you’re aiming for 5-10 backlinks per month.
Now it’s your turn. I would love to hear what you think about this strategy. What would be the top lesson you learned? Do you have any questions? Join our free FB group to discuss, share, and learn more tips to earn backlinks.